Sunday July 14th 2019 Pastor Galen Zook Colossians 1:1-14 Feeling like a Billion Bucks Imagine with me that all of a sudden you received a call out of nowhere letting you know that some long-lost… More
Pastor Galen Zook
Sunday June 23rd 2019
Psalm 42; Colossians 3:12-17
Dark Night of the Soul
42:8 “By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”
Psalm 42 was written by a poet who was most likely a singer in the temple choir. The superscription indicates that this song was written “to the leader,” by one of the Korahites — who were the leaders of the choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle.
The songwriter at one time seems to have had a deep and vibrant connection with God, but he seems to be going through what is often called a “dark night of the soul.” The psalmist describes his intense longing for God, saying, “as a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1, 2b NIV).
The psalmist then goes on to describe how he was the one who used to lead the processions into the temple, “with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng” (Psalm 42:4b). But now his soul is downcast and “disturbed within me” (Psalm 42:5).
I don’t know if you can relate to what the psalmist was feeling or not, but perhaps there was a season in your life when you woke up one day and you just didn’t feel like praising God. Maybe you couldn’t put your finger on why you were feeling that way, but you just felt disconnected from God. You had a longing for God, but it just felt like God was far away or removed. I’m sure that probably most of us have felt this was at one time or another — even pastors feel this way sometimes, and probably Scripture readers and Sunday school teachers and maybe even members of the choir too!
For the psalmist it even feels like God has forgotten about him (Psalm 42:9). And if that weren’t bad enough, his enemies are taunting him, saying, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10b). Talk about a dark night of the soul!
And so what does this songwriter do when he can’t feel God’s presence? He writes a song (psalm)! He writes a psalm that is heartfelt and honest, he writes a song that expresses his longing for God, his discontent, and he reminds himself of how God has worked in his life in the past, of all the things that he has to be grateful for. And he encourages himself through his own music and poetry to find hope in the Lord.
Psalms and Hymns
Music has a way of lifting our spirits, of connecting us with God. Even when we may feel disconnected from God, music can be a tool to express our longing and desire for God. When we don’t know what to pray, psalms and hymns can often express our thoughts and feelings in a way that other means of prayer and communication may fall short.
This is why Paul tells us in Colossians chapter 3 that we should “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Col. 3:16). This is one of the reasons why music is such a significant part of our Sunday morning worship services.
“Our Wesleyan Heritage” Sermon Series
This month we are talking about Our Wesleyan Heritage, and each Sunday in June we’re focusing on a different historical figure in the Methodist church movement who has had a significant impact on who we are today as a church and denomination.
Two weeks ago we talked about Phoebe Palmer, a Methodist revivalist, theologian and author in the mid-1800’s who advocated for the rights of women to preach. She encouraged people to pursue holiness, and to lay hold of the promises of God in Scripture. Last week we looked at the life and ministry of the British clergyman John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, whose life and ministry spanned much of the 1700’s, who developed a methodical approach to pursuing holiness and godliness, but who felt somewhat restless and dissatisfied in his walk with God, until that moment when he felt his heart had been “strangely warmed” and he felt the assurance of his salvation.
Today we’re going to focus on the life and ministry of a famous Methodist songwriter who lived from 1820 to 1915, whose well-loved songs and hymns are still sung in many churches and by many denominations even today. In fact, our three congregational hymns for today were written by her, and we have a number of her other hymns in our United Methodist Hymnal. Like the psalmist who wrote Psalm 42, her hymns express an intense longing and desire for God, and have provided hope and encouragement to so many people. This songwriter was one of the most prolific hymnwriters of all time, writing over 8,000 hymns and Gospel songs, with over 100 million copies printed. And all of this despite the fact that she was completely blind!
That hymnwriter was Fannie Crosby.
Fannie Crosby (1820-1915)
Fannie Crosby was born in 1820 in the town of Brewster, about 50 miles north of New York City.
At six weeks old, Crosby was given a treatment for an inflammation of the eyes that resulted in her becoming completely blind, and a specialist declared that she would be blind for the rest of her life. On top of that, at six months old her father passed away, leaving her to be raised by her mother and grandmother.
When she was nine years old Fannie Crosby and her mother moved to Connecticut, where she was placed under the tutelage of a woman named Mrs. Hawley. Mrs. Hawley taught her the Bible and poetry in equal proportions and Crosby began to memorize large portions of each. By the age of ten Fannie Crosby could recite the first four books of the old and new testaments by heart, and could recite countless secular poems as well.
She also began to compose her own poetry. At the age of eight she wrote her first poem:
Oh, what a happy child I am, Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy That other people don’t!
So weep or sigh because I’m blind, I cannot, nor I won’t!
Although she resolved to be happy despite her blindness, Crosby recounts in her autobiography that if she ever lamented that she was blind, it was because she was not able to read. The amount of literature printed in Braille was very limited in those days. She had such a hunger and thirst for knowledge, that she said, “night and night again, I have gone to bed drearily, weeping because I could not drink of the waters of knowledge that I knew were surging all around me.”
Eventually, God answered her prayers that she could go to school, opening up the opportunity for her to attend the New York Institute for the Blind. There, among other things, she learned to play the piano, organ, harp, and guitar, and was trained as a soprano singer.
Career as a Poet and Hymn Writer
Interestingly enough, although Fannie Crosby is best known today as a Gospel hymn writer, she didn’t begin composing hymns to be sung in church in earnest until the age of 44!
After graduating from the New York Institute of the Blind became an instructor at the school, teaching grammar, rhetoric, and history. During that time she composed numerous secular and political poems. At the age of 23, Crosby traveled to Washington, D.C. with a group of lobbyists to argue for support of education for the blind. In fact, she was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate when she read one of her poems in front of the joint houses of Congress!
In her early 30’s she published a book of poetry which included poems focusing on the recent Mexican–American War, and a poem pleading for the US to help those affected by the Irish Potato Famine. She also composed numerous poems that were set to music and became popular songs of the day, along with several longer-length Cantatas. Even after becoming a hymn writer, Crosby continued to compose poems that were political in nature. She was an ardent abolitionist, and during the Civil War she wrote songs and poetry in support of the Union cause.
Fannie Crosby got married at the age of 38. She and her husband only had one child, a daughter by the name of Frances, who died soon after birth. Fannie’s husband, who was also blind, was a church organist and music teacher, and after the death of their child he became a bit of are recluse. The couple lived very simply, never owning their own home and giving large portions of their income away. Together they organized concerts and poetry readings and gave half of the proceeds to organizations that aided the poor.
It was during that time that Crosby began composing hymns full-time. She would often compose 6 or 7 hymns a day, for which she was typically paid $1-$2/hymn. Crosby described her hymn-writing process saying, “It may seem a little old-fashioned, always to begin one’s work with prayer, but I never undertake a hymn without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration.”
Home Missions Work
Although Crosby will always be best known for her hymns, Crosby lived most of her adult life in some of the poorest areas of New York City, including Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, the Bowery and the Tenderloin districts, and she saw herself primarily as a rescue mission worker.
At the end of her life, Fanny’s concept of her vocation was not that of a celebrated gospel songwriter, but that of a city mission worker. In an interview that was published in the March 24, 1908, Fanny said that her chief occupation was working in missions.
She was always aware of the great needs of immigrants and the urban poor, and was passionate to help those around her through urban rescue missions and other compassionate ministry organizations. She said, “from the time I received my first check for my poems, I made up my mind to open my hand wide to those who needed assistance.”
During the early part of her hymn-writing career, her mission work was mostly indirect, giving monetarily to rescue missions and encouraging them with her poems, but at the age of 60 when she and her husband separated, Crosby “made a new commitment to Christ to serve the poor” and to devote the rest of her life to home missionary work. She increased her involvement in various missions and homes, dedicating her time as “Aunty Fanny” to work at various city rescue missions, including the Bowery Mission, where she often spoke for their evening meetings. By the way Fanny lived to the age of 95!
Many of Fanny’s hymns emerged from her involvement in these city missions, including “More Like Jesus” (1867), “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour” (1868), and “Rescue the Perishing” (1869), which became the “theme song of the home missions movement” and was “perhaps the most popular city mission song,” with its “wedding of personal piety and compassion for humanity” It was also during this time when Fannie Crosby met the Methodist revivalist and evangelist Phoebe Palmer, who we talked about several weeks ago. Fannie often accompanied Phoebe and her husband Walter to their revival campmeetings in the area, and she even composed the hymn “Blessed Assurance” with their daughter, Phoebe Knapp.
Fannie’s Dark Night of the Soul
Given Fannie Crosby’s life story, it’s not surprising that Crosby experienced periods of her life that can only be described as a Dark Night of the Soul, like the songwriter who composed Psalm 42. In her autobiography, Crosby describes an experience she had when she was a young child:
A poor little blind girl, without influential friends, could have as many ambitions as any one; but how was she to achieve them? What was there for her? The great world that could see, was rushing past me day by day, and sweeping on toward the goal of its necessities and desires; while I was left stranded by the Comfort from Hymns, when a Child. wayside. “Oh, you cannot do this—because you are blind, you know; you can never go there, because it would not be worth while: you could not see anything if you did, you know” :—these and other things were often said to me, in reply to my many and eager questionings.
Often, when such circumstances as this made me very blue and depressed, I would creep off alone, kneel down, and ask God if, though blind, I was not one of His children; if in all His great world He had not some little place for me; and it often seemed that I could hear Him say, “Do not be discouraged, little girl: you shall some day be happy and useful, even in your blindness.”…And so it was, that gradually I began to lose my regret and sorrow at having been robbed of sight: little by little God’s promises and consolations came throbbing into my mind. Not only the Scriptures, but the hymns that I heard sung Sabbath after Sabbath, made deep impressions upon me
Crosby attended many different churches of various denominations during the course of her life-time, but it’s reported that when she first attended a Methodist church she fell in love with the hymns of the church. For most of her adult life, Crosby was actively involved in the Methodist Church, and now we have the blessing singing her hymns in our worship services.
This morning I hope you are encouraged by the life of Fannie Crosby, that no matter what you are going through, no matter how old or young you are, no matter what you have or don’t have, you can cry out to the Lord. And if you don’t know what to say to the Lord, or if you don’t feel like praying, pick up a Bible and read aloud the words of a Psalm, or pick up a hymnal and read aloud the words of one of Fannie Crosby’s hymns.
The psalms and hymns were composed by people who endured challenges in their lives just like us, but found hope and comfort in the Lord. May we too find hope in the Lord, and praise God even in the midst of the storms of this life.
Pastor Galen Zook
Sunday June 16th 2019: Trinity Sunday
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day we celebrate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our God who is three-in-one. It’s also Father’s Day, and our reading from Romans reminds me a lot of something that a father would say: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
“Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” In other words, “suffering builds character.” What a very fatherly thing for Paul to say!
But Paul goes on to say that “character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:4b-5)
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” What a beautiful sentiment.
God’s love. Poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, working together in perfect harmony and unity, three-in-one. The Triune God invite us into a love relationship with the Trinity. Paul says that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, and God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
We see here that God is not a harsh, demanding, or controlling father who dispassionately allows us to suffer merely for the cause of some greater good. God loves us, abundantly, irrationally, unconditionally. And God wants to fill us with love, and with hope.
Head and Heart
Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday when we celebrated the birthday of the Church, when God poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples. We talked about the story of Phoebe Palmer, a Methodist woman who lived in the mid-1800’s who experienced the Holy Spirit, not through an outwardly emotional encounter like so many other people of her day, but simply through claiming the promises of God in Scripture. Phoebe’s story reminds us that God’s Spirit is alive and at work in and through all Believers, young and old, men and women, rich and poor. We don’t need to sit around waiting for an emotional experience, God has already promised to give us the Holy Spirit. All we need to do is claim and hold onto that promise.
But today I want to encourage us that there is also a place for emotion and experience in the life of the believers. It’s not all about intellect or head knowledge. We can also experience God with our hearts, because as Paul says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
Our Wesleyan Heritage: John Wesley
For the rest of the month of June we’re going to focus on “Our Wesleyan Heritage,” looking at a different key figure in Methodist history who can inspire us to live faithfully today.
Today, as we think about what it means that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, we’re going to focus on one of the key founders of the Methodist Church: John Wesley, paying particular attention to how he experienced the Holy Spirit in his life, when he felt his heart “strangely warmed.”
John Wesley was born in England in 1703. He was the 15th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, who eventually had a total of 19 children, although only nine of their children lived past infancy.
Although John’s father was a religious leader, serving as a rector of a church, John’s mother Susanna had a deeply profound impact on his spiritual life. Susanna provided religious instruction for each of her children, and spent an hour with each of them every week, listening to them and providing intensive one-on-one religious instruction.
When John was five years old, the rectory where his family lived caught on fire. The rest of the family made it out of the house, but John was stranded on the upper floor. One of the church parishioners was able to reach him by standing on another man’s shoulders and was able to lift him out of the window just before the roof of the house collapsed. This was a critical moment in John’s life, as he was able to look back on this event confident that God had rescued him for a particular purpose.
At the age of 17, John went to study at Oxford. Upon graduation he was ordained as a deacon and later became a priest in the Church of England. He was also an academic, teaching Greek and New Testament at Oxford.
While at Oxford John became passionately devoted to living a life that was holy set apart for God. He studied the Bible earnestly and sought to apply the Scriptures into his own life. He and his younger brother Charles even began a club which was nicknamed by others the “Holy Club,” which met every day from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. for prayer and Scripture reading. They sought to pray all throughout the day, fasted several days a week, and even began visiting people in prison, ministering to people who were sick, and helping the poor.
John and Charles remind me so much of many of the college students that I work with on a daily basis. Young adults tend to be passionate and energetic, and throw themselves into whatever it is that they’re doing — which can be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what their interests are! For John and Charles, fortunately, they were doing great work, and even though they were criticized and made fun of by the other students at Oxford, they persisted in their convictions and even gathered quite a following of other students who joined them in their religious fervor.
It was during this time that John developed a very methodical approach to growing in his inner spirituality that involved keeping an elaborate grid of his daily activities hour by hour, keeping track of resolutions that he kept or broke, and even ranking his hourly “temper of devotion” on a scale from 1 to 9! Talk about methodical! Now you know where we get the name “Methodist” from.
Failed Mission in Georgia
Between 1735 and 1738 John had several major experiences that would prove to be significant turning points in his life and the Methodist movement. One of those experiences was an experience of failure — probably the biggest failure of his ministry career, and the other was an experience of grace and of the Holy Spirit that would transform the way he related to God and to others for the rest of his life.
In 1735 at the age of 32 John accepted the invitation to come to America to serve as a priest of the Church of England in the newly formed colony of Georgia, with the intention of preaching the Gospel to the Native Americans living in the area, and to provide pastoral leadership to those in the colony.
Unfortunately, John failed in his attempt to reach the Native Americans with the Gospel, and at the same time, he also developed romantic feelings for one of his parishioners (which was unprofessional even in those days). When the young woman married another man, John was crushed, and refused to serve her communion, which as you can imagine caused quite a stir and was completely inappropriate (today in the Methodist church we do not refuse communion to anyone – it is a symbol of God’s love and grace bestowed on all people). Charges were filed against John, and he returned back to England, discouraged and ashamed.
The other experience began while John was en route to Georgia. A storm had come up at sea, and the mast of the ship was broken off. Everyone on the ship was panicking, except a small group of German Christians called “Moravians” who calmly prayed and sang hymns during the storm. John was awestruck by their apparent deep sense of inner peace and realized that despite all of his religious fervor he was missing something.
Upon his return to England, John sought out the Moravians, and it was while he was attending a Moravian church service that he had a profound experience of the Holy Spirit. While the speaker was reading Martin Luther’s preface to book of Romans, John Wesley said that he “felt his heart strangely warmed.” He said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
It was from that time that John came to realize that it was not his good works or piety that saved him, but God’s grace alone. A few weeks after this experience, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another on God’s grace “free in all, and free for all.” And although John never decreased in his religious fervor, from that point on his never stopped preaching about God’s grace that is freely given to all.
Through this experience, John came to more fully understand Paul’s point in Romans 5, that it is through Jesus Christ that we can have peace with God and that we have access to God’s grace (Rom. 5:1-2). And I think John’s experience at Aldersgate was also the time when John fully realized that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5)
John’s life also illustrates Paul’s point, that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
My “Aldersgate” Experience
Several years ago I had my own “Aldersgate” experience. I had been doing campus ministry for about 10 years, and I was taking a ministry Sabbatical. During that time I realized how much my identity was wrapped up in how I had been serving God and what I had been doing “for” God. When all that was stripped away I found that I didn’t even know who I was apart from my roles in ministry.
It was during that season that I had a profound encounter with the Holy Spirit. I don’t even remember where I was or what I was doing, all I know is that all of a sudden I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s love for me — not because of who I was or what I had been doing to serve the Lord, but simply because I am a child of God.
God’s Love, Grace, and Forgiveness for All
Friends, one of the lessons for us to learn from the life of John Wesley is that God’s grace is available in abundance to each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful things you’ve done to serve the Lord, but it also doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed or messed up. God’s love and grace and forgiveness is available to each and everyone to repents of their sins and turns to the Lord.
If you’ve never encountered the love of God in a deep and profound way, my prayer for you this morning is that you would be overcome with the love of God, like John Welsey you might feel your heart strangely warmed, and that you would experience firsthand God’s love poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Galen Zook
Sunday June 9th 2019: Pentecost Sunday
Romans 8:14-17; Acts 2:1-21
Waiting for the Holy Spirit
Once again Jesus’s disciples were gathered together in the upper room. The same place where, 50 deays earlier, they had celebrated Passover with Jesus, the same place where he’d washed their feet, the same place where he told them that one of them would betray him, the same place where, after his death and Resurrection, he had appeared to them show them and showed them the scars in his hands and feet.
Jesus had appeared to the disciples multiple times since his death and Resurrection. 10 days earlier he had ascended up to heaven after promising that he would send them an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them and who would guide them into all truth.
How exactly this was going to happen, and what it would be like when the Holy Spirit came, they had no idea. Prior to this, the Holy Spirit had rested upon people for a specific time and a specific purpose. Throughout the Hebrew Bible it seems that the Holy Spirit came upon one person at a time. People like Gideon (Judges 6:34), or Samson (Judges 14:6) were filled with the Holy Spirit to perform a particular task. But the Holy Spirit had never come upon a group of people all at once before.
But, Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. And so the disciples sat there, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to look for, not knowing how long it would take.
It was Pentecost, the Jewish harvest festival when they celebrated the anniversary of the day when God gave the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Jewish people from all over the known world at that time gathered together in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. Since Pentecost was only 7 weeks after Passover, many Jewish people who lived far away would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and stay all the way through Pentecost.
And so Jesus’s disciples, numbering 120 at that point, were gathered together, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit to come. Men and women, young and old, families with young children running all around, teenagers sitting together on the side of the room passing notes back and forth on scrap pieces of parchment, and those who were more senior (some of who might have needed some assistance making it up the stairs to that upper room).
Waiting, longing, hoping for the promised Holy Spirit.
Tongues of Fire, and the Sound of a Rushing Wind
And then, suddenly the Holy Spirit came. Rushing upon them with the sound of a violent wind, tongues of fire resting over each and every person in the room. Young and old, men and women, rich and poor, all of whom have been transformed by Jesus, now filled with the Holy Spirit.
Miraculously, everyone in the room began to speak in other languages — languages that they had never learned, languages they couldn’t understand but that all the people gathered outside heard and understood. The crowds of people outside who were gathered from all around the world heard them speaking in their own native languages.
Those outside wondered what in the world was going on? And so Peter went out to explain. Peter — the disciple who had been in hiding only weeks prior, the disciple who had denied Jesus, who said he didn’t even know Jesus. Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed God’s Word to the people.
Peter explained that this is what had been predicted by the prophet Joel, who said that in the last days God would pour out the Spirit on all flesh, that sons and daughters would prophesy, and young and old alike would dream dreams and see visions. He proclaimed that salvation is available to all people, rich and poor, young and old, men and women. And that day 3000 people were saved.
I personally love this story. I love imagining what it would have been like to be in the Upper Room, to see the tongues of fire rest on each person and to hear the sound of the rushing wind.
But for me personally, I’ve never experienced the Holy Spirit in this way. I’ve never experienced a literal tongue of fire descend upon me (at least not that I know), I’ve never experienced the Holy Spirit rush into the room with the sound of a violent wind.
And if you’re anything like me, then you probably haven’t experienced anything exactly like this either. And so we might wonder, is the Holy Spirit still active today? And how do we know if we even have the Holy Spirit living inside of us?
Well for all of us who have ever wondered this, I want to tell the story of Phoebe Palmer.
Phoebe Palmer was a young woman who was passionate about God and she desperately wanted physical, tangible assurance that God was at work in her life. But as a teenager she never had the outwardly transformative, profoundly emotional experience that so many people around her claimed to have, and so she continually wrestled with doubts.
Phoebe Palmer was born in 1807 in New York City during a time when there were tremendous revivals happening all around the United States – often called the “Second Great Awakening.” Phoebe was born into a Methodist household — in fact her father had heard been converted after hearing John Wesley preach in England.
Many of the revivals happening throughout the United States were happening in Methodist churches and camp meetings, and people were sharing all sorts of radical emotional encounters that they were having with the Holy Spirit.
Phoebe longed to have an emotional experience like this. As a teenager and young adult, Phoebe kept a journal (which she later turned into a book called The Way of Holiness) where she recounted her longing for what she referred to as an experience of “sanctification” – utter devotion to God.
But alas it never happened, at least not in the way she hoped or imagined.
You see, Phoebe was someone who was more naturally inclined towards reason and logic. She had more of an analytical mind, and she tended to arrive at conclusions through careful thought and study. She was more of a thinker than a feeler, and she defied the cultural stereotypes that women are more inclined towards feeling and emotion.
At the age of 19 Phoebe got married to a doctor, and she and her husband began attending the Allen Street Methodist Church. Phoebe and her older sister began leading a weekly Tuesday prayer meeting for women.
And it was during this time period when Phoebe came to the realization that she didn’t necessarily need to have an emotional encounter with the Holy Spirit in order to be sanctified. All she had to do was to claim the promises of God which were already laid out in Scripture.
This was an utterly life-changing, transformative experience for Phoebe. And how did she arrive at this conclusion? Through reason and logic, and careful study of the Scriptures!
Phoebe began to share about her experience at her Tuesday women’s prayer meeting, and it seemed to strike a chord with many of the other women there. She was asked to share at nearby campmeetings, and eventually she began traveling all around the area sharing about her experiences and helping others to claim the promises of Scripture. When her book was published she received and accepted invitations to speak as far away as Canada, and years later she and her husband spent 4 years holding revival services in England, Scotland and Wales.
Phoebe spoke in front of crowds of hundreds and thousands of people, both men and women — all this at a time when women were not licensed to preach in the Methodist church. Phoebe didn’t consider herself a preacher, she was simply testifying to what the Holy Spirit had done in her life. But many other women were inspired by her example to get behind the pulpit and preach, including Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, and Amanda Berry Smith, a former slave who became an evangelist Europe, India, and Africa through the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Phoebe Palmer wrote an article defending the rights of women to speak and preach in public, called “Tongues of Fire on the Daughters of the Lord” in which she points back to this story in Acts and that first Pentecost, pointing out that the Holy Spirit filled both men and women, old and young, and that if the Holy Spirit has called and anointed someone to preach the Gospel, who are we to stop them?
In addition to her public ministry of speaking and writing, Palmer was a proponent of cross-cultural mission work, prison ministry, and service to the urban poor. She was the founding director of the Five Points Mission in New York City and was actively involved in abolitionism and the temperance movement. In 1846 she and her husband raised the funds to send the first Methodist missionaries to China.
One of the reasons that Phoebe Palmer was so passionate about spreading her message was that she believed there were many people like her who were sitting around, waiting for years to have some sort of emotional encounter with the Holy Spirit before they began serving the Lord, when they could be getting busy working for the Lord if they simply placed their trust in God and took God at God’s Word. And so she was passionate about letting people know that God’s promises are available to anyone and everyone if we simply trust God and claim God’s promises.
More of the Holy Spirit
Friends, Jesus promised his followers that he would send us the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all truth. Jesus said that God would give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks (Luke 11:13). And so if you’ve placed your hope and trust in Jesus, if you’ve given your heart and life to Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. It’s OK if you’ve never experienced tongues of fire descending upon your head, it’s OK if you’ve never heard the sound of a mighty rushing wind or had an outwardly emotional encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:11 says that “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.” And so all you need to do this morning is to lay hold of that promise, and to take God at God’s Word.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with asking for more of the Holy Spirit in your life, and this morning during our time of prayer if you’d like to ask for more of the Holy Spirit I’d invite you to come forward and we’d be happy to pray over you and anoint you with oil, as a symbol of God’s anointing on your life.
Maybe you’re feeling called to preach the Gospel or to start a new ministry, to serve the poor or needy, but you’ve been second-guessing that call. This morning, along with Phoebe Palmer, I want to proclaim that if God has called and anointed you and you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, then you don’t need to sit there waiting for years and years for some sort of emotional experience to confirm that calling. Let’s claim the promises of God, let’s tap into the power of the Holy Spirit that is available to all people, men and women, young and old, and let’s get busy serving the Lord!
Sunday June 2nd, 2019
Psalm 97; John 17:20-26
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one” John 17:22
These were some of Jesus’s final words as he prayed for his disciples in the upper room, shortly before he was arrested and crucified. Jesus had just celebrated Passover with his disciples and washed their feet, giving them a vivid object lesson on servant leadership. And then he proceeded to pray for his disciples as well as for those of us who believe in Jesus because of the word of their testimony, praying they we would all be one, just as Jesus and God the Father and Holy Spirit are one. With less than 24 hours left on this earth, Jesus prayed for us, that we his disciples would all be united as one.
Different Types of People
A friend of mine used to joke there are two types of people in this world: people who categorize people into groups, and people who don’t.
The reality is that many of us love categorizing people into groups. We categorize people by the color of their skin, their country of origin, gender, personality type, occupation, height, weight, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, age, sexual orientation, hair color, eye color, political party, and the list could go on and on.
And then of course we categorize people into groups by faith and religion. There’s religious vs. non-religious, religious vs. spiritual, there’s the religion or faith you grew up in and then there’s the religion or faith you chose for yourself. There’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and many more. Within Christianity there’s Catholic vs. Protestant, Mainline vs. Evangelical, Charismatic vs. Reformed, and all sorts of denominations and non-denominational churches.
Even within our denomination, the United Methodist Church, there are all sorts of ways people could be categorized. There are people who prefer contemporary worship and others who prefer hymns. There are those who want to keep things the same, and others who want things to change. There are people who attend big churches and those who attend small churches, urban and rural, there are socially progressive churches, and theologically conservative churches.
A United Methodist Church?
At the moment, as the United Methodist Church, we’re struggling to stay united. It’s no small feat to stay united when our denomination is made up of over 12 million members in 136 countries around the world, people of every age and stage of life, people of so many different language and cultural backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives.
Currently, the debate over whether to allow same-sex weddings and clergy who are in same-sex marriages is threatening to split our denomination. It’s been a topic of intense disagreement for quite some time, but it seems like things may be coming to a head. At the special session of the General Conference held in February, to the relief of some and the chagrin of others, the General Conference passed The Traditional Plan, which strengthened prohibitions against same-sex weddings and clergy who are in same-sex marriages.
However, this past week at our Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference which was held here in Baltimore, the clergy of our conference voted to ordain an elder and commission a deacon, both of whom are in married to people of the same sex, once again resulting in celebration by some and distress by others.
And so what does it mean to stay united in the midst of such drastically different beliefs and perspectives? What would it look like for us to be “one” as Jesus prayed?
A Big Hairy Audacious Prayer
The reality is that if our dream is just to keep the United Methodist church together, then our vision falls short of the prayer that Jesus prayed for us. Because Jesus didn’t just pray for unity within a particular congregation or denomination. He didn’t just pray that all of the United Methodists would stay united, or even just that all of us at Hampden United Methodist Church would get along. He prayed that all of his disciples, of every church and denomination, would be united with each other, throughout the world, across all of the boundaries of race and class and gender and orientation and philosophy and doctrine and political beliefs. Jesus prayed that all of us as his disciples would be united as one.
Now that’s a big, hairy, audacious prayer. How can we possibly be united with Christians of other churches and denominations when it seems like we may not even be able to stay united ourselves?
And would it even look like to be united as one? What could we possibly unite us across all of these boundaries? What could we possibly come together and agree on?
Jesus’s first disciples who were sitting there listening to his prayer, numbering about 120 at that point, probably thought the same thing. Jesus had invited an incredibly rag-tag assortment of individuals to follow him. There were fisherman, former tax collectors, prostitutes, people who had been delivered from demons, people who had been blind and lame, rich people and revolutionaries, men and women, old and young. How could they possibly become united as one?
But you see, what united all of Jesus’s followers together was not that they all agreed on everything or had exactly the same political or ideological perspectives. They didn’t all have the same personality type or a common set of life experiences. No! What united them together was that each and every one of them realized their utter need for and dependence upon Jesus.
Jesus loved them individually and specifically, and when he called them to follow him, they answered that call. Not because they were perfect or had it all together, not because they were righteous or religious, but in fact it was the opposite. They recognized that they were sinners who were in need of a savior. They knew that they needed Jesus.
That’s what united them together, that’s how they became one. They recognized their need for Jesus.
We Need Jesus
What if this was how we categorized people? What if instead of seeing people as rich or poor, black or white, Catholic or Protestant, liberal or conservative, what if we saw each and every person in this world as someone whom Jesus loves, someone that Jesus died for, someone to whom Jesus has extended the offer to receive God’s grace and mercy?
And what if we looked at our fellow believers, not as people who we agree or disagree with doctrinally or theologically, but instead as a fellow sinners who have recognized their need for and dependence upon Jesus? What if, rather than categorizing other Christians by the way they worship, what if we celebrated what we have in common — that we have all responded to Jesus’s call to follow him because we realized that we cannot do it on our own?
This is what we remember and celebrate when we partake in Holy Communion. We celebrate the fact that God’s grace and forgiveness is available to all. We celebrate that Jesus gave his life for each and every person in the world, all we need to do is to acknowledge our need for Jesus.
This is why in the United Methodist Church, communion is available to everyone who loves Jesus, everyone “who earnestly repent[s] of their sin and seek[s] to live in peace with one another.” We’re not invited to the communion table because we’re perfect or have it all together. We’re invited because we need Jesus.
When we kneel along the altar and partake of the bread and the cup, we recognize our common need and utter dependence on Jesus. As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” And I would add that it is also level at the communion altar.
“We” Rather than “They”
So how do we live this out? How do we live out the answer to Jesus’s prayer that we would become one?
One small step is to begin to try to use the word “we” rather than “they” when referring to other believers. Rather than talking about “those Christians” of that particular church or denomination, what if we talked about “our fellow members” of the Body of Christ? When talking with a friend or neighbor or coworker who goes to a different church or congregation, what if you thought of them as “us” rather than a separate entity?
What if we truly embraced our utter need and dependence on Jesus, and looked at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as our family members who have also embraced their need for and dependence upon Jesus?
And so this morning I invite us to come to the communion table. I invite us to come, not because we are perfect or have it all together, but because we need more of Jesus in our lives. This morning there are believers all around the world gathering together to celebrate Holy Communion together, and this morning we join together with them, recognizing that we are all part of that same Body of Christ, that we are all sinners to whom Jesus has extended God’s grace and mercy. Let’s accept Jesus’s invitation and let’s acknowledge and our need and dependence on Jesus.
Pastor Galen May 26th, 2019
Psalm 67; John 14:23-29
Blessed to Be a Blessing
This morning I want to draw our attention to Psalm 67, which reminds us that the blessings that we have been given are not just for ourselves, but if we have been blessed, then those blessings are meant to be shared. The psalmist says
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations. (Psalm 67:1-2)
When God blesses us it is so that we can demonstrate God’s goodness and love to the world. We have been blessed to be a blessing to others.
The concept of “blessed to be a blessing” actually comes from the call of Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. God called Abraham to leave his homeland and everything that he knew and to travel to a place that God would reveal to him after he started out on his journey. When God called Abraham, God told him that he would make his name great, that God will bless Abraham, and that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:3).
This idea is repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible, as the psalmists and the prophets reminded the people of Israel that they had been chosen for a purpose — to carry God’s light to the nations. So often the people of Israel forgot their purpose, so often they lost track of why they had been chosen — they were not chosen just to be God special people so that they could keep God’s blessings for themselves, but they were chosen to reveal God’s works and saving power to the whole world.
This principle was modeled for us in the life of Jesus, who, according to the book of Acts, “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Even in our Gospel Lesson for today, as Jesus was approaching the end of his time on earth he was still looking out for his friends and disciples — giving them instructions for what to do when he was gone, sharing God’s peace with them, and promising them and us the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t just keep God’s blessings to himself — he lived his life as a blessing to others, ultimately giving his life as a sacrifice for us. Jesus was blessed to be a blessing.
Kings and Queens Would Be Jealous
Living in the U.S. in the twenty-first century, we are truly blessed. True, there are many people in our country who struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet, many people who are not treated fairly, many people who are struggling. But overall, as a nation, we have it pretty good. We have access to wonderful medical care and free public education. Our stores are well stocked with a wide variety of food and products from all around the world which we can buy at any time of the year.
Not only that, but we have access to comforts and technology that not even the wealthiest people in the world had access to for most of human history. For example, we have running water and electricity! Throughout human history (and still in many parts of the world today) people had to walk long distances to get water to drink, cook with, and bathe in. In contrast, all we have to do is turn on the faucet and we can get clean, safe, drinkable water anytime we want it. We even take baths and flush our toilets with water that would otherwise be safe enough to drink!
Not only that but many of us have air conditioning to keep us cool in the summer, and furnaces to keep us warm in the winter. We can fly across the country within a few hours. We can send messages instantly to friends and loved ones halfway around the world in a matter of a few seconds.
In many ways, the average American today lives better than Kings and Queens throughout most of human history. King Solomon, and Queen Esther would be jealous if they saw how we lived today!
We are blessed.
The Blessings We have Are Not Just For Us
Now there’s nothing wrong with appreciating and enjoying these modern conveniences that we have. I for one am grateful for modern technology, and I’m extremely thankful for modern medicine!
But it’s important to remember that not everyone in our world has access to all of the wonderful things we have access to. And so, as much as we can, we should seek to share what we have, and to work for justice and equality in our world, so that everyone throughout the world has access to what they need.
That’s one of the reasons why we support UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief which “brings God’s hope, healing and renewal to people whose lives have been disrupted by war, conflict or natural disaster” in more than 80 countries around the world, including the U.S.
And of course, our church is also involved in meeting the physical needs of people right here in our community, by housing the weekly Food Pantry and thrift store. This is a tangible way that we as a church community are seeking to make God’s ways known upon the earth, and God’s saving power known among all nations.
A Wealth of Wisdom and Experiences
On an individual level, I want to remind us that every blessing you’ve been given is not just for yourself, but it’s also meant to be shared. It’s so easy to focus on what we don’t have, what we wish we had, what we’d do or buy if we had the money or the time, that’s it’s easy to lose sight of what we already have.
As I look around the sanctuary today, I see a lot of wealthy people. Maybe not wealthy in terms of money or resources, but wealthy in terms of wisdom and experiences. You all have been through a lot. You’ve seen a lot. And through all of the experiences that you’ve been through in life, you’ve learned a lot, and you’ve been blessed with a lot of wisdom.
I’m here this morning to tell you that the lessons you’ve learned and the wisdom you’ve gained is not just for you. It’s meant to be shared.
Now there may not be a lot of people coming to you asking for your sage advice. Unfortunately in our world today with all of our modern technology and capacity for communication, we rarely take the take for face-to-face conversations. But if you have been given knowledge and wisdom, it is your responsibility to share that with others.
And so I would encourage you, I would challenge you, to write down your experiences. Write down some of the lessons that you’ve learned. Or record them. If you have a smartphone, then you have the power to record your life-story in the palm of your hands. There are many free apps you can download to easily record yourself speaking. If you’re not sure how to do that, ask your children, grandchildren, or any teenager. Use a pen and paper if you have to. But share your story, pass your wisdom along to the next generation. Your children and grandchildren may not thank you for it now, but someday they will. My grandparents passed away when I was young, and I wish I had been able to glean more of their wisdom and learn from their experiences before they passed away.
Sharing the Blessing of Our Church Building
Not only have we been blessed as a nation and as individuals, but we have also been blessed as a congregation. Every week we come together to worship God in this beautiful sanctuary, with beautiful stained glass windows, and more than enough space for our congregation.
And God has been so faithful to our congregation over the past 150 years. Since I became your pastor in July, I’ve so many wonderful stories about the wide variety of ministries that took place in this building over the years. From the Emmanuel Men’s Bible class and Queen Esther Women’s Bible study, to the Good News Puppets, Clown ministry, to theatrical productions and choir concerts, God has worked in and through the people of this church to bless the community in Hampden in so many ways.
And now we’re entering into a new season, a season where at least for the next few months we’re going to be sharing our building and our sanctuary with another congregation. This is going to be a big adjustment for us — not only are we adjusting the time of our Sunday services, but we’re clearing out some space and making way for them to bring in some of their own equipment. They’ll be using our children’s ministry space, youth room, and fellowship hall at various points throughout the week.
This is a big change on our part, and it’s going to take some time to get used to. And yet I am trusting and believing that as we share the blessings that we have been given, that this will serve to bolster not only our own ministry in this community, but it will also help more people in the community of Hampden hear about Jesus and experience God’s saving power. Because in the end, the blessings we have been given are not just for ourselves — they are meant to be shared. We have been blessed to be a blessing.
I’d like to end by reading Psalm 67 from the Message paraphrase translation of the Bible:
God, mark us with grace
and blessing! Smile!
The whole country will see how you work,
all the godless nations see how you save.
God! Let people thank and enjoy you.
Let all people thank and enjoy you.
Let all far-flung people become happy
and shout their happiness because
You judge them fair and square,
you tend the far-flung peoples.
God! Let people thank and enjoy you.
Let all people thank and enjoy you.
Earth, display your exuberance!
You mark us with blessing, O God, our God.
You mark us with blessing, O God.
Earth’s four corners—honor him!